British students dodge police in fresh fees protest

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Thousands of students took to Britain's streets Tuesday to protest government plans to triple university fees, playing a game of cat and mouse with police in London in a third day of action this month.

Organisers said 8,000 people braved snow and freezing temperatures to gather in the capital for what began as an orderly march but dispersed as protesters confronted a cordon of police.

They broke into groups and ran through the city, stopping traffic as they dodged police officers across a wide area from Hyde Park Corner in the west to St Paul's Cathedral in the east.

Protesters also rallied in other cities in the third national day of action against Prime Minister David Cameron's plans to raise tuition fees. He says there is no alternative as Britain tries to reduce its massive budget deficit.

"I want to voice my opposition to the government because I think it's appalling. It shows a complete lack of understanding for what is important," said protester Joshua Mellors, 22, a University College London student.

Athough there were occasional clashes with police in London and two people were arrested for public order offences, there was no sign of the violence that marred the previous two protests in the capital.

About 10,000 students and school children took to the streets on November 24, attacking a police van and starting fires, and on November 10 a crowd of up to 50,000 ran riot and smashed up the offices of Cameron's Conservative party.

In the central English city of Birmingham Tuesday, scuffles broke out as a number of protesters gained entry to the city council, Sky News said, while demonstrations also took place in Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester.

About 200 protesters meanwhile gathered near the constituency office of Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg in the central city of Sheffield, demanding he stand by the promise he made before May's election to oppose any fees rise.

Clegg reneged on the pledge when his Liberal Democrat party became junior partners in Cameron's coalition government after the polls.

The Lib Dem minister in charge of tuition fees policy, Vince Cable, apparently bowed to the pressure Tuesday by saying he will abstain in a key vote if fellow Lib Dem lawmakers decide that is the right thing to do.

"My own personal instincts ... are very much to vote for it but we have got to vote as a group, collectively, and we are discussing how we do that," Cable told BBC radio.

The London protest began as planned, with several hundred people gathering at Trafalgar Square for a march down Whitehall to the Houses of Parliament, but the students broke up when they came up against a line of police officers.

Police said the cordon was set up to steer the march to one side of the road to avoid gas works, but a spokeswoman for the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, one of the protest organisers, said it was intimidation.

"As soon as they saw the police with batons coming towards them, they started running," spokeswoman Joana Oliveira Pinto told AFP.

She put the total number of students and schoolchildren protesting at 8,000, about half of them in one group. Their route included Oxford Street, London's main strip of shops, where they brought traffic to a standstill.

Police said about 500 people gathered later at a rally at Trafalgar Square but they refused to put a figure on the number involved overall.

Police admitted to being caught off guard during the November 10 protest and last week they clamped down hard on the protesters.

They contained thousands of them in a single area for several hours, a controversial tactic known as 'kettling' -- and one that Tuesday's fleet-footed demonstrators appeared determined to avoid.

© 2010 AFP

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